Pygeum is a supplement that is comes from the African Cherry tree (known as Prunus africana). It is used for both practical and medicinal purposes in many African countries. It has drawn a lot of attention in recent years due to its supposed effects on benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement).
But what do we know about this supplement? It's extracted from the African cherry tree and sold as an oral supplement. It does not require a prescription, and is often sold under the name Prunus Africana rather than Pygeum.
The common dosage for Pygeum is between 50mg and 100mg taken daily, though taking 75mg to 200mg per day is recommended if attempting to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia.
In this article we are going to take an in-depth look at Pygeum, we will investigate its benefits, any side effects and safety information related to it, and help you to decide for yourself whether Pygeum is worth purchasing for yourself.
What Is Pygeum?
Pygeum is a widely used supplement in Africa, the African cherry tree grows across the continent but has become endangered as a result of mass harvesting. Mostly for its supposed medicinal properties. South Africa has become the first country in Africa to impose limits to the number of trees that can be harvested each year. Unless other countries follow suit, the tree could become extinct.
Every part of the tree is used, for many different purposes. In Cameroon the branches are used for tools, the timber is used for building and for ceremonial spears, the bark is used for traditional medicine, the fruit and leaves are eaten as food, the seeds are occasionally used as medicine, and the flowers are used for honey production .
The traditional medicine made from the African cherry tree has been used for all manner of ailments. In a journal article published in Economic Botany by Kristine Stewart (2001) the author lists the many uses to which she has witnessed Pygeum being used across Africa:
(Paraphrased) AIDS, Angina, Antibiotic, Anti-Inflammatory, Antimalarial, Antiparasitic, Aphrodisiac, Arthritis, to aid Circulation, Dehydration, Diarrhea, as an Energy Booster, Epilepsy, Eye disorders, Fevers, Headaches, Hypertension, Infertility, Mental Illness …. The list goes on and on .
As you can see, Pygeum is seen as a treatment for multiple issues. As you have probably guessed, it is unlikely to be effective for anywhere near as many issues as this. If it did then it would be the most famous drug in the world. Sadly, in countries where traditional medicine is massively more accessible than regular medicine it is not uncommon for trees, herbs, and other plants to be used in this way. Often, any results are probably due to the placebo effect.
Often, when it comes to traditional medicine, there is some beneficial effects, but they tend to be less effective than most medical alternatives. Modern medicine tends to take what is effective in traditional medicine and improve it, so this is perhaps not surprising. However, that does not mean that Pygeum does not have any benefits at all.
The Potential Benefits of Pygeum
Out of the hundreds of potential uses of Pygeum (according to the traditional medicine of certain African countries) we have narrowed it down to five benefits of Pygeum that have some scientific backing to them.
This does not mean that the other potential benefits should necessarily be dismissed, just that we can’t prove them. On the other hand, the benefits that we do mention are not set in stone. There is limited evidence to support them, and more research is certainly needed.
It May Be Useful For Treating Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
The most likely benefit associated with Pygeum is the effect that it has on benign prostatic hyperplasia. This is a condition where the prostate gland increases in size but not because of cancer (hence the benign part of its name).
While it is benign, do not make the mistake of thinking that benign prostatic hyperplasia is a party. Quite the opposite. BHP sufferers can have a variety of different symptoms particularly when it comes to urination. While BHP is not life threatening, it is a serious condition that can cause a lot of pain and discomfort.
In 2002 a meta-analysis was published by the Cochrane Database that looked at the results of 18 studies into Pygeum and its effect on BHP . They concluded that Pygeum was able to reduce the symptoms of BHP by 19-23%. The theory is that Pygeum blocks aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. It also reduces testosterone levels. Both of these hormones can contribute to enlargement of the prostate.
It May Help Prevent Prostate Cancer
With its ability to prevent prostate growth it is not a huge leap to say that Pygeum may also be able to protect against prostate cancer. A 2007 study (using mice rather than humans) found that taking Pygeum extract led to a significant decrease in prostate cancer risk compared to mice who took the placebo .
The study concluded that Pygeum “has a significant role in regulation of prostate cancer both in vitro and vivo and therefore may be a useful supplement for people at high risk for developing prostate cancer”.
Of course, there have not been any human trials as of yet, but if Pygeum can inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells (PC-3 and LNCaP cells) in vivo and vitro (within the body and outside the body) then it could very well be an effective weapon against prostate cancer.
It May Help Treat Bladder Disorders Associated With Diabetes
One of the side effects of type II diabetes that nobody mentions is diabetic cystopathy. This is a condition that causes decreased bladder sensitivity, an inability to completely empty the bladder when urinating, and poor pressure while urinating . This is associated with high blood sugar and insulin. The belief is that this condition is caused by oxidative stress on the bladder due to diabetes.
A 2010 study by Wang et al on rats with diabetes-induced bladder issues found that supplementation with Pygeum led to an increase in bladder pressure, and a reduction in maximum bladder volume . The study concluded that “early treatment with P. africanum could effectively suppress the oxidative stress status in diabetic bladder and may slow down the process of diabetic cystopathy”.
If you have type II diabetes, then supplementing with Pygeum might be an idea. It appears to be effective at prolonging the time until you develop diabetic cystopathy, or it may prevent it entirely.
It May Reduce Inflammation
Reducing oxidative stress goes hand in hand with reducing inflammation, and as we have already seen, there appears to be quite a bit of evidence that Pygeum can reduce oxidative stress. The fact that it can reduce prostate cell proliferation and prevent oxidative stress of the bladder points to an anti-inflammatory property.
In traditional African medicine many inflammation-related illnesses are treated with Pygeum.
It May Treat Fevers
This final benefit is a little less scientific than the last few, but it is interesting to note that Pygeum is a commonly used treatment for fevers, particularly malarial fevers .
Side Effects Of Pygeum
There is a real lack of evidence for any side effects, though we've found sources online that state the following:
- Increased risk of nausea,
- Abdominal pain
It also recommends that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid Pygeum. Though this is their standard advice for basically any supplement.
Pygeum appears to be one of those supplements that may have one or two highly niche benefits, in this case the ability to reduce prostate cell increases. The ability to improve diabetes-induced bladder issues is also a useful potential benefit.
But there really isn’t that much evidence that Pygeum does anything. The studies that do see beneficial effects are rarely performed on humans, and the studies that are, are often criticized for being badly designed.
The massive use of Pygeum in traditional African medicine may tempt you into thinking that there must be some benefits, but it is often the case that traditional medicine is offered by unqualified people instead of medical professionals. While there have been many documented cases of traditional medicine being effective, it is rarely better than modern medicine.